the road less traveled (M. Scott Peck, M.D.)

the road less traveledWhat’s our purpose of existence in this world?  How come we are born only to suffer and commit sins?  And what’s up with this ultimate goal of going to heaven?  That in order to get there, we have to pass a series of tests and if we don’t pass it we would be blamed, persecuted, or called unworthy. Does God understand that life is so fuckin’ hard, so why do we have to be born and suffer the “consequences” of being born into this world?  Why can’t just God welcome us all there without any discrimination, without any obstacles we need to hurdle?  And why is it where there is joy, ecstacy, happiness, or cheer, there is also sadness, pain, or misery?  It seems like every good thing has its price. Why are we here anyway?  What’s the meaning of life?

These are the questions I asked my older sister once when I was much younger.  I was so self-absorbed that I don’t even remember now what were my sister’s answers to those questions, or if she was able to answer them.  Then as I continued living my life – working, hopping from one job to another, meeting new friends, falling in/out of love, exploring different places, conversing with people and strangers, finding comfort in books and movies, and thinking about my mortality that I can’t live here forever – I sort of figured things out on my own, just to make myself feel secure about some stuff, to cure some of  my existential dilemmas.  And I just let myself answer those nagging questions I had based on my personal experiences and inspiration from other people. I sort of formulated my own beliefs which will serve as my guide in the way I live my life. One of them is this:  “To put into good use whatever talents/abilities God has given me and share it to help others.”  Here’s another one:  “Living well is the best revenge.”  The latter is actually my favorite motto.  It sums up all my beliefs. And by following these beliefs, it will help me grow spiritually as a person.  It will help me become better as the years pass by.  Because I want to remain a good person until the day I die.

Of course, these beliefs or principles do not give me immunity from harsh realities.  I still get insecure if someone belittles me just because I am poor, or just because I didn’t graduate in one of the top reputable schools.  I still get jealous if I see my boyfriend is paying more attention to another girl. I still get angry if I don’t get things my way. I still get suspicious if I doubt the action/intention of others. I still get to feel fear if a certain situation reminds me of a hurtful past.  Why is this so?  Even when I’m trying to be good, why do bad things still happen to me?

In the book, “The Road Less Traveled,” M. Scott Peck, M.D. explains why:

“Life is difficult.

“This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.  It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it.  Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult.  Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.

“Most do not fully see this truth that life is difficult.  Instead they moan more or less incessantly, noisily or subtly, about the enormity of their problems, their burdens, and their difficulties as if life were generally easy, as if life should be easy.  They voice their belief, noisily or subtly, that their difficulties represent a unique kind of affliction that should not be and that has somehow been especially visited upon them, or else upon their families, their tribe, their class, their nation, their race or even their species, and not upon others.  I know about this moaning because I have done my share.

“What makes life difficult is that the process of confronting and solving problems is a painful one.  Problems, depending upon their nature, evoke in us frustration or grief or sadness or loneliness or guilt or regret or anger or fear or anxiety or anguish or despair.  These are uncomfortable feelings, often very uncomfortable, often as painful as any kind of physical pain, sometimes equaling the very worst kind of physical pain.

“Yet it is in the whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has its meaning.  Problems are the cutting edge that distinguishes between success and failure.  Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom; indeed, they create our courage and our wisdom.  It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually.

“As Benjamin Franklin said, ‘Those things that hurt, instruct.’  It is for this reason that wise people learn not to dread but actually to welcome problems and actually to welcome the pain of problems.

“Most of us are not so wise.  Fearing the pain involved, almost all of us, to a greater or lesser degree, attempt to avoid problems.  We procrastinate, hoping that they will go away.  We ignore them, forget them, pretend they do not exist.  We even take drugs to assist us in ignoring them, so that by deadening ourselves to the pain we can forget the problems rather than meet them head on.  We attempt to get out of them rather than suffer through them.

“This tendency to avoid problems and the emotional suffering inherent in them is the primary basis of all human mental illness.”

I first learned about M. Scott Peck, M.D. through one of my older brothers, a registered nurse and a fan of Bruce Lee.  He mentioned this book that Peck authored, People of the Lie, and shared something about evil possessions that was tackled there, or one of the topics there.  Several years later I bought that book.  It’s one of the most disturbing book I ever read, next to George Orwell’s 1984.  Quite an eye-opener.  I bought the book at a time that I was heavily bothered with something, with some people.  It is such a coincidence – I didn’t plan it, promise! – that a few years later, heavily bothered again with something, with some people, I again bought another M. Scott Peck book.  And this is The Road Less Traveled.  It just came to my head as if an angel reminded me about it.  So I bought it as a birthday gift to myself, when I turned 34 last November.

M. Scott Peck, M.D. gained instant recognition when he released his first book, The Road Less Traveled.  He was a psychotherapist.  In the introduction of the book, he wrote:

“The ideas herein presented stem, for the most part, from my day-to-day clinical work with patients as they struggled to avoid or to gain ever greater levels of maturity.  Consequently, this book contains portions of many actual case histories.  Confidentiality is essential to psychiatric practice, and all case descriptions, therefore, have been altered in name and in other particulars so as to preserve the anonymity of my patients without distorting the essential reality of our experience with each other.

“As a psychiatrist, I feel it is more important to mention at the outset two assumptions that underlie this book.  One is that I make no distinction between the mind and the spirit, and therefore no distinction between the process of achieving spiritual growth and achieving mental growth.  They are one and the same.

“The other assumption is that this process is a complex, arduous and lifelong task.  Psychotherapy, if it is to provide substantial assistance to the process of mental and spiritual growth, is not a quick or simple procedure.  I do not belong to any particular school of psychiatry or psychotherapy; I am not simply a Freudian or Jungian or Adlerian or behaviorist or gestaltist.  I do not believe there are any single easy answers.  I believe that brief forms of psychotherapy may be helpful and are not to be decried, but the help they provide is inevitably superficial.

“The journey of spiritual growth is a long one.  I would like to thank those of my patients who have given me the privilege of accompanying them for major portions of their journey.  For their journey has also been mine, and much of what is presented here is what we have learned together.”

Though the author, as I was to discover, was promoting psychotherapy, thus the title, The Road Less Traveled, the book largely contains topics about discipline, love, growth and religion, and grace that are very much helpful to readers who want to achieve spiritual growth.  It also contains topics about neuroses and character disorders, about the healthiness of depression, about the myth of romantic love, about ego boundaries, about the myth of Orestes, about the miracle of the unconscious, about the alpha and the omega.  Everything about the book is a journey to behold and I have to admit that my favorite topic of all was when the author discussed the topic about love, especially about falling in “love.”  I don’t know why I wanna say this, although I could just reject it and never include it here, yet still I wanna say it right here, at the time that I was in the middle of reading this book, I just entered a new relationship. It is my second try in the love game, considering I have put myself in a very unique situation as compared to my very first relationship.  So what M. Scott Peck shared about falling in love was very interesting.  So interesting that I copied a large portion of the contents here.

M. Scott Peck wrote:

“Of all the misconceptions about love the most powerful and pervasive is the belief that ‘falling in love’ is love or at least one of the manifestations of love.  It is a potent misconception, because falling in love is subjectively experienced in a very powerful fashion as an experience of love.  When a person falls in love what he or she certainly feels is ‘I love him’ or ‘I love her.’  But two problems are immediately apparent.  The first is that the experience of falling in love is specifically a sex-linked erotic experience.  We do not fall in love with our children even though we may love them very deeply.  We do not fall in love with our friends of the same sex – unless we are homosexually oriented – even though we may care for them greatly.  We fall in love only when we are consciously or unconsciously sexually motivated.  The second problem is that the experience of falling in love is invariably temporary.  No matter whom we fall in love with, we sooner or later fall out of love if the relationship continues long enough.  This is not to say that we invariably cease loving the person with whom we fell in love.  But it is to say that the feeling of ecstatic lovingness that characterizes the experience of falling in love always passes.  The honeymoon always ends.  The bloom of romance always fades.

“The essence of the phenomenon of falling in love is a sudden collapse of a section of an individual’s ego boundaries, permitting one to merge his or her identity with that of another person.  The sudden release of oneself into the beloved, and the dramatic surcease of loneliness accompanying this collapse of ego boundaries is experienced by most of us as ecstatic.  We and our beloved are one! Loneliness is no more!

“Falling in love has little to do with purposively nurturing one’s spiritual development.  If we have any purpose in mind when we fall in love it is to terminate our own loneliness and perhaps insure this result through marriage.  Certainly we are not thinking of spiritual development.

“If falling in love is not love, then what is it other than a temporary and partial collapse of ego boundaries?  I do not know.  But the sexual specificity of the phenomenon leads me to suspect that it is a genetically determined instinctual component of mating behavior.  In other words, the temporary collapse of ego boundaries that constitutes falling in love is a stereotypic response of human beings to a configuration of internal sexual drives and external sexual stimuli, which serves to increase the probability of sexual pairing and bonding so as to enhance the survival of the species.  Or to put it in another, rather crass way, falling in love is a trick that our genes pull on our otherwise perceptive mind to hoodwink or trap us into marriage.  Frequently the trick goes awry one way or another, as when the sexual drives and stimuli are homosexual or when other forces – parental interference, mental illness, conflicting responsibilities or mature self-discipline – supervene to prevent the bonding.  On the other hand, without this trick, this illusory and inevitably temporary (it would not be practical were it not temporary) regression to infantile merging and omnipotence, many of us who are happily or unhappily married today would have retreated in wholehearted terror from the realism of the marriage vows.”

Makes sense no?  Actually I believe them to be true.  And maybe this is the reason why many marriages don’t last, many relationships don’t get pass the honeymoon stage.  While some, if they do last for years, sex is the foundation of their relationship, which, to me, is a very weak and shallow foundation.  But the author, at times, would contradict himself.  Case in point:

“Having proclaimed that the experience of ‘falling in love’ is a sort of illusion which in no way constitutes real love, let me conclude by shifting into reverse and pointing out that falling in love is in fact, very, very close to real love.  Indeed, the misconception that falling in love is a type of love is so potent precisely because it contains a grain of truth.

“While falling in love is not love, it is a part of the great and mysterious scheme of love.”

Love is a big word, a strong word and to romanticize the concept of love is not giving any justice to it.  There is so much more to love!

M. Scott Peck wrote:

“I have defined love as the will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one’s own and another’s spiritual growth.  Genuine love is volitional rather than emotional.  The person who truly loves does so because of a decision to love.  This person has made a commitment to be loving whether or not the loving feeling is present.  If it is, so much the better; but if it isn’t, the commitment to love, the will to love, still stands and is still exercised.  Conversely, it is not only possible but necessary for a loving person to avoid acting on feelings of love.  I may meet a woman who strongly attracts me, whom I feel like loving, but because it would be destructive to my marriage to have an affair at that time, I will say vocally or in the silence of my heart, “I feel like loving you, but I am not going to.”  My feelings of love may be unbounded, but my capacity to be loving is limited.  I therefore must choose the person on whom to focus my capacity to love, toward whom to direct my will to love.  True love is not a feeling by which we are overwhelmed.  It is a committed, thoughtful decision.”

Reading about this made me think about my new relationship.  It makes me wonder if we will be together for the rest of our lives. Or will it just be a temporary thing?

In the book, the author also talked about self-love, which according to Whitney Houston who passed away last year, is the greatest love of all.  I strongly agree!

“When we grow, it is because we are working at it, and we are working at it because we love ourselves.  It is through love that we elevate ourselves.  It is through our love for others that we assist others to elevate themselves.  Love, the extension of the self, is the very act of evolution.  It is evolution in progress. Among humanity love is the miraculous force that defies the natural law of entropy.”

I didn’t expect that the answer to the questions I asked my sister ancient’s ago would be found in this book… about the concept of God… about the meaning of life.  And the meaning of life all boils down to one thing… love.

Have you ever thought why, each time we celebrate our birthday, or each time we have a new beginning, our ultimate aim is growth?  Like as if remaining as we are is like being dead.  Why do we always aim for growth, for something better? Why do, in every decision that we commit to, we weigh first the pros and cons?  And why, at the end of the day, whether we are religious or not, we just want to please God, to praise God by means of our decisions we make everyday?  And why is it that some people, despite growing up in a home lacking in love, a home that is filled with hostility and chaos, still grew up to be responsible and loving adults?  It’s all because of love.

Here’s M. Scott Peck:

“If we postulate that our capacity to love, this urge to grow and evolve, is somehow ‘breathed into’ us by God, then we must ask to what end.  Why does God wants us to grow?  What are we growing toward?  Where is the end point, the goal of evolution?  What is it that God wants from us?  It is not my intention here to become involved in theological niceties, and I hope the scholarly will forgive me if I cut through all the ifs, ands, and buts of proper speculative theology.  For no matter how much we may like to pussyfoot around it, all of us who postulate a loving God and really think about it eventually come to a single terrifying idea:  God wants us to become Himself (or Herself or Itself).  We are growing toward Godhood.  God is the goal of evolution. It is God who is the source of the evolutionary force and God who is the destination.  That is what we mean when we say He is the Alpha and the Omega.”

After reading this book, after reading the cases of some of his patients, I will always remember this:  Love is not a feeling.  Love is an action, an activity.  Love is not effortless. Love is effortful. So to add to that, I also would like to say that for me not to worry so much if my new relationship will last long or not, I will just say that Love is taking each day as it comes.

To end this article, I’d like to put down here another two beautiful passages from the book The Road Less Traveled which is a wonderful gift to us by M. Scott Peck, M.D.

“Everyone wants to be loved.  But first we must make ourselves lovable.  We must prepare ourselves to be loved. We do this by becoming ourselves loving, disciplined human beings.  If we seek to be loved – if we expect to be loved – this cannot be accomplished; we will be dependent and grasping, not genuinely loving.  But when we nurture ourselves and others without a primary concern of finding reward, then we will have become lovable, and the reward of being loved, which we have not sought, will find us.  So it is with human love and so it is with God’s love.”

“There are many who, by virtue of their passivity, dependency, fear and laziness, seek to be shown every inch of the way and have it demonstrated to them that each step will be safe and worth their while.  This cannot be done.  For the journey of spiritual growth requires courage and initiative and independence of thought and action.  While the words of the prophets and the assistance of grace are available, the journey must still be traveled alone.  No teacher can carry you there.  There are no preset formulas.  Rituals are only learning aids, they are not the learning.  Eating organic food, saying five Hail Mary’s before breakfast, praying facing east or west, or going to church on Sunday will not take you to your destination.  No words can be said, no teaching can be taught that will relieve spiritual travelers from the necessity of picking their own ways, working out with effort and anxiety their own paths through the unique circumstances of their own lives toward the identification of their individual selves with God.”

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